Expat Children and Identity Crisis

Guest post by Lucie Koch

Lucie Koch has joined Global People Transitions for an internship and will be sharing her internship experiences in a regular blog journal.

I have been in Zürich for a few weeks now and I am starting to adjust to swiss city life. I am amazed every day by how cosmopolitan Zürich is with all the languages heard in the tram. It’s wonderful.

In my last blog post, I wrote about how entry into professional life was one kind of culture shock. I have started to adapt to the professional and swiss cultural frame. Working for Global People Transitions is a very interesting experience, especially since I get to be involved in very diverse tasks, from administrative paperwork to exciting business development projects. I am discovering how many gearwheels must be activated and maintained for the business machine to work properly.

While I expected to have to adjust to professional culture, I wasn’t quite prepared for the general culture shock that I experienced in Switzerland. As a child who grew up in France with parents from the cantons of Zurich and Luzern, and many family ties in Switzerland, I have been exposed to Swiss culture throughout my upbringing. I spent a few holidays in Switzerland when I was younger and identified quite strongly as Swiss. But then this month, I found myself suddenly confronted with cultural and structural enigmas: What is the deal with these expensive trash bags? Why do people eat so early? I also found myself confused about how to greet new people properly – do I offer a handshake? Should I do the ‘bise’ (kiss)? – which resulted in some awkward moments of hesitation and embarrassed smiles. It turns out, I might be more French than I thought.

These experiences made me think about the topic of mixed cultural identities, especially in the case of expatriation and specifically about the children of expatriates who grow up abroad.

Indeed, when you grow up in a country as a foreigner, especially in an area of low cultural diversity as it is the case for the French countryside where I grew up, the Swiss identity makes one stand out, especially for children. You don’t understand the other kids’ popular culture references and you speak another language with your family. The scarcity of Swiss items like cervela, landjäger, and swiss chips or mayonnaise turn them into ‘precious’ objects for the expat parents and to expat children, they appear as relics of Swiss-ness that you get to share once every other month in a kind of family tradition.

In the end, as a ‘born-expat’, one gets a reflected image of the parent’s culture. Indeed, a born-expat’s understanding of the ‘culture-of-origin’ is imagined (through the information absorbed from the media, short stays in the country or from the family’s opinions and stories) and not experienced. Therefore, young expats born abroad have an incomplete picture of a culture with which they strongly identify. The resulting culture shock, when the born-expat realizes how different reality is, can be very difficult, especially since it touches the perception of one’s own identity.

Children of expatriates are a very interesting focus of study when it comes to intercultural competence and how culture affects one’s identity and life. We are quite aware of how being an expatriate family is complicated logistically, emotionally and mentally on all members during the first years of immigration or how tricky it can be to raise children in a country in which we are not completely familiar with the education system. It is however important to consider that expat-children may face identity struggles when they grow up and to actively address the issues of identity and nationality during the upbringing.

Have you experienced any issues related to identity as an expat? Do you know a good way to address the question of identity with expat children?

I hope you enjoyed the read, I’ll write again next month.

Until then, have a great day!

Lucie

Lucie Koch is intern at Global People Transitions since April 2017. She is about to graduate from an Intercultural Management Master study, which led her to study in Dijon, France, a city she was already familiar with and in unfamiliar Finland (for one semester). Previously, she studied one year at Durham university (UK) as part of a Bachelor Erasmus Mobility program. She was born in 1994 to Swiss expat couple in France. She grew up in the French countryside, around horses. She’s a self confessed introvert, fascinated by different languages, cultures, science (especially astronomy and biology) and philosophy. She also likes to spend time drawing, painting or in cinemas.

 

 



One thought on “Expat Children and Identity Crisis

  1. Hi Lucie, I am an international psychologist specialized in transnational identity development. Should you want to connect further on the subject of TCK identity development. I am available as a resources. All the best in your international journey.
    With Gratitude,
    Dr. Brandi Eijsermans

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